Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feeling a Little Tipsy?

No, I’m not talking about wine. That will be a different post…..I promise. No but seriously, I am talking about the whole tipping, gratuity, showin’ a little love with a fist full of euro, ya know that kind of tipsy.  The diplomatic response here is, uhum; “Tips are greatly appreciated, but certainly not obligatory by any means” (insert big cheesy smile on my face) People ask me this question all the time and since I always try to be as professional as possible while I am working this is usually my response but what I really want to say to them is this:  

TIPS ARE PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE, anzi, (that’s Italian for actually quite the opposite) they are GREATLY appreciated!! Yes, by all means, tip your waiter, tip your cabbie, tip your bellhop, just like you would at home, but most importantly TIP YOUR TOUR GUIDE!!! Please remember that these people are providing you with a service and they work very hard and are rarely paid accordingly.  Now I know that Rick Steves says you shouldn’t, but please take it from me, I and many of my colleagues, we depend on it. The person providing you with the service is only getting paid a fraction of what you paid for it. Italy has THE lowest wages in Westeren Europe, even lower then Greece.  (See previous post She Works Hard for the Money) People are forced to live at home until they are in their mid to late 30's because even professionals barely pull in 1000 euro per month. These people are working very hard and that coperto that you are paying at the restaurant is NOT going to the server, trust me its not, its going to the owner.  
I work in the service industry here in Italy and let me tell you that without tips I would not be able to pay my rent, bills, etc. It doesn't have to be a large tip even a few extra euro is appreciated and very much needed. Even my ITALIAN husband leaves tips in restaurants. You don't have to tip for your coffee at an espresso bar but, your concerige who just spent 15 on the phone for you making reservations for museums and dinner, yes you should tip her. Your taxi driver who lifted your heavy suitcase in and out of his car, yes you should tip him too, your waiter who brought you bread, then wine, then olive oil, then water etc, yes you should tip her too. Your tour guide who just spent the last 4 hours talking non-stop explaining every little detail of the paintings in the gallery with the utmost enthusiasm and booking your tickets as well as answering all of your questions related to the tour and not, yes you should tip her too!!!  
 It is incredibly frustrating to me to read in guide books or on other web sites and blogs about traveling to Italy that one should not tip. My colleagues and I are constantly looking for ways to spread the word about tipping in Italy knowing that it is a common misconception that one should not, and then to find out that there are still those who are saying not to is like taking a GIANT step backwards for us! Obviously I'm not saying that you should tip if someone has been rude or not performed their job properly, but I know for example that I am ALWAYS nice and gracious and not getting a tip after putting in all of that time, energy and effort is slightly frustrating.
While yes it may have been true once upon a time that it was considered an insult to tip, I assure you 110% that, that is no longer the case. The times they are a-changin’ and you gotta change with the times.  Now I’m not talking your life’s savings here but a little sign of appreciation is never taken badly. I made my way though college waiting tables in the U.S, I don’t know how to NOT leave a tip.  I leave a little something extra for everyone from my waiter to my hairdresser, to my dry cleaner and I assure you that no one has EVER been offended. I mean think about it, who would say no to a little extra money? Now you may be thinking to yourself, ok well I’m Australian or English, we don’t tip, well, maybe you don’t at home, but you really should here. When in Rome people, when in Rome…….So give a little bit, give a little bit of your love……
P.S. I just wanted to add for those of you who might be visiting my blog for the first time, that the purpose of this blog is to answer question that I am asked regularly about visiting, studying and living in Florence honestly and candidly. My purpose is to share with you my thoughts and opinions from a realistic point of view. Thanks for stopping by. Please let me know if you have a question and I will do my best to answer it for you. 


  1. This is absurd. Tipping in general is absurd. It is definitely not part of the italian culture and begging people to introduce your own culture's habit where it is not regularly done is pathetic. The underlying problem here is the fact that you are not paid properly - if people were paid properly, they would need to beg for tips. But this problem is not your client's problem, it's not Rick Steve's problem and it certainly is not the responsibility of tourists on their holidays to pay your bills. If you cannot find a way to pay your bills with your job then maybe you need to change jobs. Italians in admin, some types of hospitality, and a huge range of other jobs still get paid lower standards than the rest of the world but are not in a position to beg for tips from their clients - why should you? This is a much more sensible article on the subject:

  2. Thanks for your comment! I certainly do appreciate other opinions and points of view. I do however, think that your response is a tad harsh and hostile. First I would like to say that you are right in that tipping has not been part of Italian culture traditionally, however I have noticed a definite shift in this in the last 10+ years that I have lived here. It really has nothing to do with me introducing my own cultural habits to Italy, but rather the Italian culture welcoming something that they feel could be beneficial to them. Your right it has not been regularly done in the past but it is starting to become more the norm in recent years. As I mentioned, my husband who is Italian chooses to leave tips for good service as well. I also think your choice of words are a bit out of line as well as I don't think anyone is "begging" for tips here I am simply stating that if you feel that you have had good service or if someone goes out of their way for you, above and beyond, that it is nice to show your appreciation (if you read my article fully you would see that I said "I'm not saying that you should tip if someone has been rude or not performed their job properly"
    I never said that tips should be obligatory either, its just a nice gesture for a job well done. And what some may consider to a be a "more sensible' point of view in my opinion is just asking for mediocre service. I waited tables for years while I was in college and never once did I see a waiter 'chase down' a European for not tipping. Tipping is not obligatory in the U.S either and this article is speaking as if it is. And Rick Steve's is just an example dear, no one ever said it was his problem nor the responsibility of the tourists on holiday 'to pay my bills' that was said in a joking way, we obviously have a different sense of humor.:) The point behind the article is simply this, if you feel that you have had good service show your appreciation by leaving a little extra, its okay to do so despite what your guidebook or other sources are telling you. I am trying to make light of a situation and answer a question that is often asked to me by tourists who hear various responses on the subject. This is meant to be light-hearted and fun. I am sorry that you feel it necessary to be harsh and nasty.

    Again I appreciate your comment, I am curious however why you chose not to leave your name as you seem so matter of fact and confidant in your statements.

  3. Great response Sara! I think it is great that "Anonymous" felt the right to speak their point of view, but it is telling that he/she didn't feel comfortable actually using his/her identity.

    Do away with tipping? Sure. It sounds reasonable...once employees are paid well enough not to need it. --"If you cannot find a way to pay your bills with your job then maybe you need to change jobs."-- Sure, in an ideal world. But I am assuming "Anonymous" is not an ex-pat living in Italy. It is not that easy to just change jobs. It is not even really in the European culture. In many European countries it is still the trend to have the same job your entire life... So good luck if you all of the sudden want to recreate yourself...

    Anyway, I thought the article was great. There is often an idealized and disconnected way that foreigners view "La Vita Bella" and every-so-often it helps to know that things have changed. Italy has a vast history, and we cannot freeze any one part of it...even the present is always changing, and the best thing to do is embrace it.

  4. Thanks for writing a much-needed, savvy piece about the thorny issues of tipping in Italy.

    I've been a travel writer covering Italy (and particularly Florence) for a long time, and it's a constant question for many of our readers: what/how much do I tip?

    Sarah, as you rightly point out, you tip if you're satisfied with the service rendered. And if you're not, you don't.

    Looking very forward to your next blog!

  5. Thanks for the comments ladies!
    Christine, your are absolutely right on about people have an idealized and disconnected view of life in Italy. People often say to me how wonderful it must be to live here, its like a permanent vacation. Wonderful, yes at times, permanent vacation hardly, life is life wherever you go. Thank you for pointing that out.

    Patricia, thorny subject is right! Many times people think they are going to offend someone by leaving a tip, I would just like to assure readers that this is not the case at all. I often see people hesitate before doing it and wait to see if anyone else does, well if everyone is reluctant then no one will ever do it. Just letting people know its ok!


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